Consciousness - further reading

This page lists books related to the article What is Consciousness?
There are a huge number of books related to consciousness, and so this page will only be able to look at a small area of the subject. Thus I'll restrict myself to books aimed at the popular science market, and mostly to books dealing with the philosophical questions discussed in the article, although the penultimate paragraph will look at some less philosophical books. Also, I'll not mention all the relevant books by a particular author. If you're looking for more, then there's a large bibliography on David Chalmer's website.

Physicalism vs Dualism

Despite the majority of people having what amounts to a dualistic point of view, Cartesian Dualism has been out of favour in academic circles for some time. This seems to mean that those defending a dualistic type of theory often invent a new name for it which tends to make an already difficult subject even more confusing.

Gilbert Ryle's 1949 book The concept of mind was highly influential. In this dualism is ridiculed as proposing a 'Ghost in the machine' . Note that Arthur Koestler's 1967 book The ghost in the machine is not specifically a reply to Ryle's comment, although it does have some chapters on the workings of the brain. However, this now looks rather dated, as does the the second part of The self and its brain by Popper and Eccles. The first part of this work is a philosophical defense of Dualism, but it chooses parallelism as its main opponent - rather a strawman in my point of view.

One of the strongest defenders of physicalism in recent decades has been Daniel Dennett. He has written many books for instance Consciousness explained, which go over the arguments in great detail, but as a result tend to be rather long. Dennett's most recent book Freedom Evolves is an explanation of how free will is compatible with physicalism. Naturally there are those who argue against Dennett's ideas, for instance John Searle in Minds, brains and science. However, Searle doesnt really fit into my classification of the four possible philosophies. A recent book with a dualist slant is A place for consciousness by Gregg Rosenberg

Other views

Parallelism seems to be a popular point of view, but most supporters don't seem to see the formidable objections. One person who does try to answer them is David Chalmers in The conscious mind. Support for mentalism is rather thin on the ground. Understanding consciousness by Mark Velmans starts of with a mentalistic viewpoint, but midway through it seems to switch to parallelism.

Since the early days of quantum theory there has been speculation that it is linked to consciousness in some way. Some accounts of this are highly mystical, but others have tried to make a reasonable argument, such as Roger Penrose in The Emperors New Mind.

Less philosophical

Some people have decided to steer away from an excess of philosophy and look more at how the mind is put together. If you think that this approach is more suited to your tastes then I would suggest reading The private life of the brain and other works by Susan Greenfield. On the robotics/artificial intelligence side there is How to build a mind by Igor Aleksander. Chemistry of conscious states takes a medical viewpoint, with John Hobson making the point that in treating mental illness the brain and the mind have to be considered together. Steven Rose's books tend to be more speculative for example the 21st century brain.


Since the subject is so vast and confusing, it is useful to have an overview of the different arguments. Note that even if a work is attempting to present a balanced view, its author is likely to have their own slant. One very good overview is Consciousness by Rita Carter. In The Mystery of Consciousness, John Searle looks at and criticises the viewpoints of several writers in this field. You may also be interested in Mindwaves which is a collection of articles edited by Susan Greenfield and Colin Blakemore. Normally I find single works preferable to such collections, but here I think the variety of viewpoints is useful in understanding the subject.